Wordless words on Joni Mitchell

June 12 2015

Do you know how to speak about what you love?

Joni Mitchell has been in the news a lot, and for once when I see her name and hear it I flinch and do not want to know. Others do not know how I feel about her except that I do. I love to write, yet when it comes to Ms Mitchell, I do not have a word.

I've gotten this question a lot, as though I am somehow the go-to source when I am the most unreliable source you could ask: who is Joni Mitchell? I pretend I don't hear, though I pay attention by principle. I will try an answer for you listserve readers (though really, spare others the pain and just use google): Joni Mitchell is a folk and jazz singer-songwriter known for her "weird chords" and a song she came to regret about Woodstock, written early in her development. She is an artist, a recluse, frustratingly standoffish and a painter ("I live in a box of paints").

Joni Mitchell is sick. Reports on her condition varied from the apocalyptic to the utterly blasé. I have been ducking into bathroom stalls to glance at them, and now, just ignoring them completely.

I used to feel lonely about my wordless connection to Ms. Mitchell. I wanted someone in my small hometown to recognize the wave that transported me from my headspace to somewhere of renewal with word and sound for what I lacked, that sometimes happened as early as the first few chords of "All I Want" and sometimes took until the strange spiraling vocals of "My Old Man." I thought that if someone could understand the ins and outs of Blue than they would know my longings and aches and feelings of completion.

There is a reason for sound, and weird chords, and belted proclamations that could be quietly scratched down on a notepad. I know this, and yet, I doubted myself the first time I was face to face with another Joni Mitchell fan and didn't know what to say. I didn't want to perform her ("Oh, you know For the Roses is perineally overlooked"), nor to reduce her to girlish exclamations of love. And my friend said a few words about Court and Spark and I nodded and then found myself switching to another topic, my mind hollow and buzzing, confused and deliberately so.

I believe in words, and yet: words lack the fullness, shape, sensory affront that occurs when they become translated to sound, when they slide deeper into emotion as they become music. The alternate world of song is different from that of literature: rather than the literary effect of being transported into an alternate world, as a listener, the world of albums is still mine, more purely and richly mine than a busy mind could ever plan.

Joni Mitchell is sick and part of me feels sick. It isn't fair to her. She doesn't owe anyone her soul. I don't want her as a cult of personality and she wants it even less. I have been frozen because: she deserves due testimony, deserves so much more, and I do not know how or where to even begin professing it.

Reader, I meant to write more to you. But rest assured. I am grateful, and I want to know the speechless parts of you.

Madeleine Durante
[email protected]
sent from Lucca, Italy, but usually Philadelphia

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